Flexible dieting is one of the most exciting trends to hit the health and nutrition space in a while. This is a fun topic for me – it’s the reason why people are confused that I’ve lost over 40lbs, but on most days I will eat an entire pint of ice cream. If you’re wanting to get started but you don’t know how to count macros, we’re going to lay it out all for you in the easiest way possible.
After reading this article you’ll know:
- What is flexible dieting?
- What are macros, anyway?
- Why you don’t need to count calories anymore
- How to get started counting macros
What is flexible dieting?
Unlike most diets which typically restrict you from eating certain types of food, flexible dieting (also called “if it fits your macros” IIFYM) is a form of dieting where you’re allowed to eat all of the foods you love (even fries and ice cream).
But that doesn’t make sense – isn’t eating whatever I want the reason why I need to lose weight in the first place?
You’re probably right – the difference is that with flexible dieting you maintain control over your portion sizes and eat the correct combination of foods.
That’s where counting macros comes into play.
What are macros, anyway?
Macronutrients (also called macros) are nutrients that your body needs in large quantities. The macros you’re going to be tracking are:
Some people also recommend tracking fiber, but through my personal experience, it’s not necessary.
Why you don’t need to count calories anymore
Another benefit to counting macros is that it also keeps you from needing to count calories. The reason is that each of the macronutrients (protein, fat, carbs) provide a set number of calories (energy) per gram.
Here are the calories for each:
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
- 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories
Let’s say you’re sticking to a 2,000 calorie diet, you may have a macronutrient breakdown that look like this:
- 180g protein = 720 calories
- 72g fat = 648 calories
- 158g carbs = 632 calories
- Total: 2,000 calories
Don’t worry, we’ll show you how to calculate what your macros should be – it’s easy!
With all that being said, some people who count macros continue to count calories, which is also fine. Do whatever works best for you!
How to get started counting macros
Calculate your macros
The first thing you’re going to need to do is calculate what your personal macros are. Macros vary for each person depending on things like:
- What your current weight is
- What your goal is (lose weight, bulk up, etc.)
- How quickly you’re trying to reach your goal
- How often you work out
Calculating your macros is easy – use this calculator from IIFYM.com. It’s the one that I use and recommend to everyone. It takes less than five minutes and they’ll email you your results.
Plan your meals
Now that you have your macros calculated, you’ll need to start planning your meals. I’ve found that planning meals is the single most important factor in determining whether or not you stick to flexible dieting.
Fact of the matter is that some days you won’t have time to cook, other days you’re going to get cravings, and other days you’re going to be exhausted and the last thing you want to do is crunch some numbers to figure out what you can and can’t eat.
Planning your meals ahead ensures that you stick to your plan even when you don’t want to – the most important part of any diet.
So, how should you get started planning?
Think of your macros like a budget that gets refilled every day.
If you spend all of your money on a nice car, you may have to live in a tiny house. Buying a more moderate car leaves you the ability to buy a better house.
The same rules apply when counting macros – you can eat whatever you want, but you’ve got to stay within your allotted amounts of protein, fat, and carbs. Eating a pint of Halo Top may be delicious, but may not leave enough carbs left in your budget for the mac and cheese you want later.
I find that a spreadsheet is an easy way to plan your meals, but people also use apps like MyFitness Pal. The right way to do it is whatever works best for you.
A few notes:
- You need to weigh and measure everything you eat and drink to make sure you’re sticking to the correct servings sizes. Our eyes deceive us – the last thing you want to do is realize you’ve been adding way too much of something and you don’t get the results you want. Here’s a cheap scale you can buy on Amazon.
- While you can eat anything you want, eating a lot of foods “expensive” in macros that aren’t filling is a good way to leave yourself starving and eventually not following your diet by the end of the day
- You should try to stay within 3 grams of each macro (under is preferred)
- Carbs means all carbs, not just net carbs
Final words of advice
- Planning meals is the most important, but also the most difficult part of flexible dieting. It’s hard at first and feels like you’re playing a tricky game of meal prep Tetris, but stick with it. It gets easier I promise.
- Weighing and measuring everything you eat isn’t exciting and can be inconvenient, but it’s well worth the ability to eat the foods you want and continue getting closer to your fitness goals.
- Keep backup food that’s ready to go (or easy to heat up) if you need to improvise and are short on time. My go-to is frozen turkey meatballs and fries.
- Prep meals in advance if at all possible.
- Get creative and try things out. The best part about flexible dieting is that you can test out new recipes (like this cookie dough) and switch up foods when you start to get tired of eating the same things all the time.
Remember that just like with any fitness program, the key to success is consistency. You’re going to have off days. You’re going to get invited to dinner with friends and not know the exact macros of what you’re eating. That’s all fine.
Flexible dieting is meant to fit into your life, not be something you have to work your life around – that’s why it’s called flexible.
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